Spending on public higher education

Even before recent budget cuts, Massachusetts was considered a skinflint in the area of public higher education. According to the Center for the Study of Educational Policy, we ranked 48th in per-capita funding of public higher education ($158.32 per state resident) in fiscal year 2002 and 49th in funding as compared with the state’s total personal income (see chart). In the portion of the state budget devoted to state colleges and universities, we came in 47th, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers. But in terms of state spending per student, the Bay State doesn’t look so miserly. When CommonWealth measured total spending against total enrollment in public colleges and universities in 2001, the last year for which complete figures are available, Massachusetts came in a respectable 11th in the nation.

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The Bay State may not spend that much on public higher education overall, but that’s in part because fewer students go to public colleges and universities here than elsewhere. Indeed, Massachusetts is the only state in the nation that has more college students, including those drawn here from out of state, enrolled in private institutions than in public. Only 43.5 percent of college students in Massachusetts attend public institutions, far below the national figure of 74.4 percent.

Still, we may be slipping even in our per-student spending rank. A 1998 report from the National Information Center for Higher Education Policymaking and Analysis–which counts students in FTEs, or “full-time equivalents,” to equalize for part-timers–ranked Massachusetts third in per-student spending, behind Alaska and Connecticut. We’ve apparently fallen from the top 10 since then, and the decline may just be starting. According to the Center for the Study of Educational Policy, the Bay State cut appropriations for public higher education by 8.8 percent in the last two fiscal years, from 2001 to 2003. Only three other states (Iowa, Missouri, and Oregon) cut spending by larger percentages, and 41 states increased spending over the same period.

Click here to view the table